By Sasha Woodroffe
The popularity of marriage has been on a decline for several years. Many persons question the need to enter a contract with the one they love. After all, if two unmarried people can live together, raise their children together and share their lives and livelihoods, what difference does a ceremony make?
Why does the Catholic Church make such a big deal about two people in love going through a ceremony to formalise their relationship?
And that is a fair argument – if marriage were simply a contract that defines the relationship of a man and a woman. But it’s not! A Catholic marriage is so much more.
For the Catholic, marriage is a sacrament – the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. And a sacrament is a sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church.
In the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church to give Catholics special help from God which empowers us to fulfil our duties and find holiness. The Sacrament of Marriage creates a perpetual and exclusive bond between a man and a woman. Because living and sharing a life with another person is bound to present significant challenges, it gives them the supernatural strength they will need to overcome these challenges, to keep their commitments to one another and to grow in love for God and each other. This would be much harder to do without the grace of God!
In fact, research by the Pew Research Center showed that non-religious persons are 31 per cent more likely to divorce than active Catholics.
State of life
Marriage is also a vocation. Yes! It’s not only priests and nuns who have a vocation. God knows each of us better than we know ourselves and created us to know Him and love Him with our entire being.
Therefore, He calls each of us to a “vocation” or a particular state of life – whether single, religious, or married – in which we will most easily reach holiness. This vocation is the way in which God invites a person to love and give oneself to others. And that’s exactly what marriage is!
Catholics aren’t called to get married just to show the world who they love or as a remedy for loneliness. Catholics are called to enter the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony as a way of following Jesus and giving our lives in love to a spouse and children.
A husband and wife give themselves to each other freely, truly, faithfully, and fruitfully for the rest of their lives, sharing whatever joys and sufferings come their way. This total gift of self enables them to find holiness and to perfect their love for each other – bearing the fruits of true peace and joy.
Furthermore, this total self-gift of a husband and wife to each other is represented in the visible world through sexual intercourse. This beautiful and sacred act gifted by God for use in marriage, bonds a man and woman together: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for a lifetime. It is the way through which the married couple shares their love and becomes “one flesh”.
Note that the Catholic Church considers sexual intercourse outside of marriage gravely sinful not because it considers sex a bad thing but rather such a beautiful thing that it should not be misused outside of its proper context.
We are clearly living out in our time the consequences of this misuse, through artificial contraception, infidelity, teenaged pregnancies, high incidences of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the proliferation of sexual ideologies. We need to remind ourselves of the wonderful purpose of its design.
And this union of a married couple bears the fruit of children! So, marriage is not just a way of the couple giving their lives to each other but also to the children that they help to create!
And those sacramental graces will come into play as Jesus teaches the married couple not only to love each other like He does, but to love their children with Christ-like love. Those sacramental graces will empower the married couple to lead their children to Heaven.
Marriage also involves a great degree of stability and devotion and provides the ideal environment for raising children. A report published by the Institute for Family Studies found that married couples were more satisfied with family life and gave more priority to their relationships on average than unmarried couples who were living together.
As suggested by numerous studies, this commitment of married parents and the stability of a marriage lend themselves to a more nurturing environment for the raising of children.
As a result, children in low-conflict married homes are less likely to suffer child poverty, sexual and physical abuse and mental or physical illness, or to abuse drugs, commit crimes or become divorced or unwed parents in the future.
So why get married? To receive the Lord’s graces which will allow you to overcome all the challenges which come with relationships and family life.
To grow in holiness and sanctity.
To bring children into the world.
And to provide these children with a loving, stable environment which equip them for their future lives.
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